By Steve Vivona
MGM, Widescreen/Standard, $19.95, includes trailer
Wes Craven's "Swamp Thing" has always held a special place in my heart for two reasons. First, it's a comic-book movie. As an avid comic book reader since the age of four I always eagerly anticipated a translation of any four-color character to the big screen, often with disappointing results (we'll discuss that later). The second reason I recall "Swamp Thing" so fondly is that it's the first movie I ever taped when my parents bought me my first VCR in 1984. "Swamp Thing" started me down an obsessive road of collecting every movie I possibly could that held the remotest interest to me. So "Swamp Thing" ties into my life's biggest obsessions (I like to think of them as hobbies -- comics and movies).
Now on to the movie. As created in 1972 by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson the character of Swamp Thing was a brilliant scientist trapped in the body of a living plant. Dr. Alec Holland was transformed thusly after a group of double agents attempted to steal a top secret formula from him as he secretly researched its unimaginable power in the Louisiana bayou. Engulfed in flames after he is doused with the formula Holland dove into the swamp where the chemicals mixed with its natural organisms, transforming him into a hideous creature who became a super-hero of sorts.
Ten years later (and long after his comic book series had ended) producers Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan (who would later have amazing success with "Batman" in 1989) brought the idea of a "Swamp Thing" film to horror director Wes Craven who found the concept intriguing.
Craven was faithful to the premise of the comic, basically retaining Swamp Thing's origin but transforming his archrival Arcane (a hammy Louis Jordan) into a mad industriliast. Holland is played by Ray Wise who is, if nothing else, earnest in his brief role. Cult-favorite Adrienne Barbeau played Alice Cable, a government agent assigned as one of Holland's protectors. Arcane and his doofy commandos raid Holland's lab and kill all those around him, incuding his sister Linda (in the comic his wife). As in the comic Holland is doused with the formula and leaps into the swamp in a screaming fireball. He later emerges as Swamp Thing to rescue Cable before she too is killed by Arcane's goons.
Arcane is convinced Holland's research holds the key to limitless power and is obsessed with capturing the Swamp Thing when he realizes what Holland has become. After a few brawls with Arcane's henchmen Swamp Thing is captured, setting the stage for a violent showdown between the two enemies.
"Swamp Thing" died quickly in theatres in 1982 (ironically the comic book was drastically revamped by British writer Alan Moore and went on to enormous success). Definitely not as campy as say "Howard the Duck" or even "Batman and Robin" but its tongue was firmly planted in its cheek, and that hampers the film. Budgetary constraints made for a shoddy and cheap looking Swamp Thing suit. In another ironic twist the suit was vastly improved for the 1989 sequel, but the camp value was amped up to the max, making it virtually unwatchable (at least for this reviewer).
The action scenes are somewhat awkward but serviceable for a B-effort. Who can argue with the casting of Adrienne Barbeau as a crack government agent? Jourdan is well past his leading-man prime (he returned for the sequel as well) and he chews the scenery like any good megalomaniac should.
Veteran stuntman Dick Durock made a name for himself as the title character, reprising him in "Return of Swamp Thing" and the subsequent USA Network television series.
Had Craven stayed true to the character's roots (sorry) "Swamp Thing" could have been a minor masterpiece, but instead it's something of a cult classic, which will always hold a special place in my heart!
MGM's long-awaited DVD is something of a mixed bag. The transfer is nice but a little soft. Colors are strong but the image is hazy. Either presentation works but I prefer the fullframe version, and the sound is not impressive. A very goofy trailer is included as the only supplement. Disappointing because Craven is one director who loves discussing his films and he probably would've been happy to provide a commentary. Still I'm happy "Swamp Thing" is available at all.
Dick Durock as the Swamp Thing.